For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
I think about that verse often… what about “those who have never heard”? How did God clearly show his power and divine nature? Yes, we often say that the beauty of nature, as seen in a sunset or a baby’s first cry, is ample evidence of the existence of God. Is that what this verse means?
Then I read Eternity in Their Hearts, by Don Richardson*. I realized that God didn’t stop with showing himself in his creation. He placed a part of himself in every people group on earth. It’s up to us to discover where the gospel hides in every culture. It’s absolutely amazing, the “coincidences” that missionaries find on the field. That’s what this book is about.
First published in 1981, the current (2006) version is still in print. For a book to last that long, you know it has to be good. (I noticed that numerous websites have given it a 5-star rating.)
I first read this book over thirty years ago (yeah, I know I’m old). It made enough of an impression on me that years later we gave it to our Anthropology-major daughter for Christmas. But you don’t have to be an anthropologist to appreciate the stories Richardson relates. Let me give a couple of highly condensed examples:
- Long before the Karen people of Burma encountered their first British explorer in 1795, they held to a tribal legend that told of a white-skinned man who would return to them a book they had “lost” long ago—a book written by Y’wa, the Supreme God. Moreover, thousands of scattered Karen villages all sang hymns about Y’wa, praising him as eternal, creator, and omnipotent. They even have a story of man’s descent into sin that is a remarkable parallel to the account in Genesis 3!
- The Chinese writing system is pretty overwhelming, especially to one learning it for the first time. They use 214 symbols that combine to form between 30,000 and 50,000 ideographs. It turns out that the Chinese ideograph for righteousness is composed of two symbols. The upper one represents a lamb. The lower one is “I.” Thus, “I under the lamb am righteous”! Another example: the ideograph for tree is comprised of a cross with the symbol for man superimposed upon it. You can imagine the joy that missionaries experienced as they used these ideographs to convey the gospel.
If you find all this as thought-provoking as I do, you’ll thoroughly enjoy reading the rest of the book. From ceremonies in which tribes send away their sin to rituals of rebirth, there are pieces of the gospel scattered throughout the people of the earth. They’re just waiting for someone to come and explain what they’ve known all along.
As Amazon summarizes,
Eternity in Their Hearts shows how God uses redemptive analogies to bring all men to Himself, bearing out the truth from Ecclesiastes that God “has also set eternity in the hearts of men.”
* Don Richardson also wrote the best-selling book Peace Child. I heartily recommend you read that one, too.